Questions From The Neighborhood

Question: What will be the impact of the Dog Park on the South Landfill?

The dog park will use a very small portion of the landfill – less than 1.5 acres of the 50+ acre space.  There is a ridge between the dog park and the rest of the landfill, and the dog park has been designed so that it cannot be seen from the rest of the landfill (or vice versa).   Looking at this map, the yellow represents the site of the dog park.

Question: Is the South Landfill a protected area?  Is the dog park construction taking advantage of a loophole in the law?

Contrary to some information that has been published online, the South Landfill was not designated by the state in 2015 as a ‘protected bird habitat in perpetuity’.  The town has been working on building a solar farm on the North Landfill – as part of this process the town has agreed that it will protect space on the South Landfill to mitigate the loss of habitat.  This protection will not take place until the North Landfill construction begins.  The presence of a Dog Park on the South Landfill has been a part of these discussions for over two years.  In June of 2018 representatives from MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) met with town staff at the South Landfill site.  The NHESP representatives carefully reviewed the Dog Park plans and determined that the Dog Park would not interfere with the planned bird habitat and would not adversely affect the wildlife on the South Landfill.  The only concern expressed by NHESP was a potential timing conflict between the nesting of the grasshopper sparrow and the noise of a construction site.  The town has agreed to hold off on construction until late summer if nesting is taking place this spring.  No concerns were expressed by NHESP as to the habitat or nesting of birds once construction is complete.  

Question: Will the entire South Landfill be fenced off? 

The town is planning to fence in a large portion of the South Landfill to protect the wildlife habitation.  This fencing is not related to the dog park.

Question: Don’t dog walkers already have places to go?

A dog park serves a very different purpose and community than the dogs and walkers that you see in our conservation areas or in neighborhoods.  A dog park is a place where dogs (and people) can socialize freely without fear of dogs running off or bothering non-dog-lovers.  Dogs can be off-leash prior to 10:00 at our conservation areas, but that doesn’t work for people who are not free in the morning or whose dogs are not under sufficient voice control. 

Question: Should we be spending money on a dog park at this time?

The bulk of dog park funding is from the Stanton Foundation, a private grant expressly for the purpose of building a dog park on the South Landfill site. The minimal amount of town/public funding for the dog park is already in place, and none of that funding can be used for other projects. There are some CPA funds remaining, but most of these funds were used for required land-use surveys.

Question: Why do we need a dog park?

Research supports the public health and safety benefits of community dog parks. Off-leash play areas allow dogs to exercise and socialize safely, while also encouraging people to be outside and moving. Dog parks promote responsible dog ownership and make it easier for a town to enforce its leash laws and licensing requirements. Additionally, dog parks are ideal locations for dog people to meet others with common interests. The love people share for their dogs reaches beyond economic and social barriers and helps foster a sense of community. A public dog park in Amherst will enhance the livability of a town already rich in culture, education, and open space. 

Question: Was the community notified about the dog park?

The planning of the Dog Park has been a completely public process.  The Dog Park was the subject of discussions in Town Meeting in the fall of 2017 and again in the spring of 2018.  The Dog Park Task Force has held over 30 public meetings since June of 2017, all with posted agendas, and there have been articles in the Gazette and the Bulletin that included information on the site of the Dog Park.  In addition to Town Meeting, the Task Force appeared before the following Amherst boards and committees – at each of these public hearings the site of the Dog Park was discussed:

  •  Community Preservation Act Committee
  • Conservation Commission
  • Design Review Board
  • Disability Access Advisory Committee
  • LSSE Commission
  • Planning Board
  • Town Council

On June 19 and June 26, 2019 the Planning Board held hearings for a Site Plan Review and a Special Permit application for the dog park. Notices were published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on June 4, 2019 and June 12, 2019, and public hearing notices were sent to the owners of over 70 properties abutting the site on June 5, 2019. There were no public comments at either of the hearings.

Question: Are there other sites in town that would be a better location for the dog park?

The Dog Park Task Force considered numerous sites in town before selecting the South Landfill.  The selection criteria included a site that was accessible, on a town bus route, large enough to fit a park, with room for adequate parking, and with access to town water.  The site needed to be town-owned in order to qualify for the Stanton Foundation grant.  In addition, the Task Force was committed to not use existing playing fields for the park.